Studying for the NCLEX in 2018

Nurses Give Traditional Tips for Students in the Digital World

With the continued rapid advancement and sophistication of today’s technology, information isn’t just at our fingertips but at our fingertips everywhere we go. Through search engines like Google, we can search for information seemingly before we even have to finish a thought. By using GPS platforms and map apps, we literally have no excuse for ever being lost. However, in some instances in which not even the ease of immediate accesses to information can provide us with all the answers we seek. For nursing school graduates, there is no technology that can alleviate the anxiety, stress and pressure that comes along with preparing for the NCLEX examination. In fact, Margaret Sonzini, BSN, who took her NCLEX exam nearly 28 years ago, suggests staying away from the overstimulation that technology can cause in the time leading up to the test.

“I imagine digital detox is important, especially the night before the test, at the very least,” she said. “Just turn it off and go to bed.”

Everyone knows that test preparation is not as easy as that. With this article, Sonzini and Lydia Corum, RN, MSN, CWCN, share some personal tips that they believe will assist any student as they prepare for the big test.

Tip No. 1: Form a study group well in advance of the test day. Sonzini and Corum say that study sessions should be casual, but at the same time not be too cavalier.

“My best learning experience was with a group of nursing school friends,” Sonzini said. “We met up throughout our years at school, either in each others homes or an empty classroom at the school. It was never mandatory and we normally had 4-6 people show up. It really was a big help to learn from each others’ experiences in the field (especially for me, because I had no healthcare background).”

This type of atmosphere can lend to developing a healthy approach while at the same time not losing sight of the challenge ahead.

“This test is unlike any test you have ever taken,” Corum said. “The NCLEX is a test of taking the knowledge [you’ve gained] and applying it. Being aware that you are being tested on how you apply your knowledge and not on how well you memorize that knowledge [is important.]”

Taking the time and taking turns reading each other questions from a practice exam book and discussing rationales for one’s answers — whether correct or incorrect — can help further one’s understanding while gaining perspective in a thought provoking way.

Tip No 2: Self-study and practice testing is also valuable.

While studying in a group can lower inhibitions and help develop camaraderie with one’s peers, committing to some solo time to review and practice can likewise help with retaining information. Sonzini said that repeated practice tests were a benefit for her.

“I took a different test each day, and this allowed me to reassess what I had learned and what I needed to learn more about. The practice tests are very similar to the questions on the actual test and prepare you for what to expect. Also, each test question has a reference to where the information came from and gives you a study guide.”

Tip No. 3: Know your learning style and where weaknesses exist.

Eventually, group studying or self-studying will prevail as a more appropriate method for each student. The trick is being cognizant of which method is best personally. An honest assessment of one’s learning progress and which style one is more comfortable with as the test day gets closer also includes admitting which areas of study are most needed and taking the time to concentrate on those topics.

“Why waste time on reviewing material that you really know?” Corum asks, rhetorically. “You need to be aware of where you need to focus. Even though the NCLEX has changed over the years, it is still focused on applying knowledge.”

Sonzini said her greatest weakness as a graduate student was in psychiatric nursing.

“So I worked on that,” she said. “And psych was huge in the test. I read a scenario in my test about a guy with liver disease. I was so happy because I felt I knew the liver well and I’d ace all the questions related to the liver that would follow. Well, all the questions were psych related due to his alcoholism! It’s very helpful to know where our weakness lies and what to work on individually.”

Corum, a self-proclaimed poor test taker, said she’s more of a hands-on learner.

“Not everyone learns new information or retains information in the same way,” she continued. “I have great anxiety when taking written tests.”

Tip No. 4: Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.

Eating healthy is important in general, of course, but it can also lead to better test taking because overeating or undereating can be distracting. Alcohol consumption should be avoided in the days leading up to the exam and passing on simple sugars and carbohydrates is also beneficial, especially on test day, according to Sonzini.

“Stick to higher protein meals and snacks,” she said. “The last thing you want is sugar highs and lows during the test.”
Both Sonzini and Corum agree that the day preceding the exam should not be a day of study. It should be a day of relaxation and enjoyment in tandem.

“I relaxed [the day before my test] and just had fun with my family for the first time in a very long time,” Corum said. “If you studied and did prepared well, by that point your mind should be ready to release all that knowledge. You need to be ready to focus and feel confident in yourself.”

Tip No. 5: Do something for yourself before taking the test.

Sonzini says that the day before she sat for her NCLEX she refused to pick up any of the nursing literature or study materials.

“You’ll only stress more by doing that,” she said. “Do something you enjoy: yoga, visit a friend, take a long bath. Whatever you can do to relax and stop worrying!”

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